Maintaining a constant supply of water to the canal network has been a challenge since the first canals were constructed. Engineers were faced with the problem that every time a lock gate is opened, water is lost from the upper waterway and must be replenished in order to keep the canal navigable.
Many canals were designed to take advantage of natural sources or nearby rivers, but others pumped water from reservoirs or rivers further afield. With early pumps powered by wind or water, the advent of steam power saw steam engines installed to power these pumps, housed in pump houses that were easily identifiable by their towering chimneys.
When canal trade declined, many pumping stations were closed as waterways became unnavigable or the maintenance on the pumps and engines became unviable. The rise of leisure boating has seen many waterways and buildings restored, and this includes several pumping stations returning to operating conditions. Others have been converted to unique houses, museums or cafés.
The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal opened in 1819 with the purpose of transporting traffic between Sheffield and the River Don. The Tinsley flight of locks originally consisted of 12 locks, resulting in a huge loss of water as boats navigated through. To counter this, a steam engine powered pumping station was installed to pump water from the bottom to the top of the flight. In 1918, the engine was replaced by a diesel engine that was capable of pumping 3,500 gallons of water a minute, but is no longer in operating condition. The building is now decorated with scenes of canal art created by local young people.
Another pumping station can be seen on the Bradford Canal, which once joined the city of Bradford to the Leeds & Liverpool canal. Pumping stations were constructed at each flight of locks on the 3.5 mile canal to pump water back up the waterway after it suffered from water supply issues. However, the canal struggled with pollution and was never financially viable, and after the canal closed most of the pumping stations were demolished. The one remaining pumping station on the stretch has been renovated and converted into a private dwelling.
Plan your visit along The Sheffield & Tinsley Canal with our online guide.
Canal & River Trust